Bruno Perreau : “Queer Theory: The French Response”

Monday November 14 2016

4:30 at Klarman Hall, KG42

Abstract: In 2012 and 2013, masses of French citizens took to the streets to demonstrate against a bill on gay marriage. But demonstrators were not merely denouncing its damaging effects; they were also claiming that its origins lay in “gender theory,” an ideology imported from the United States. By “gender theory” they meant queer theory in general and, more specifically, the work of noted scholar Judith Butler. Now French opponents to gay marriage, supported by the Vatican, are attacking school curricula that explore male/female equality, which they claim is further proof of gender theory’s growing empire. They fear that this pro-homosexual propaganda will not only pervert young people, but destroy the French nation itself.  What are the various facets of the French response to queer theory, from the mobilization of activists and the seminars of scholars to the emergence of queer media and the decision to translate this or that kind of book? Ironically, perceiving queer theory as a threat to France means overlooking the fact that queer theory itself has been largely inspired by French thinkers. By examining mutual influences across the Atlantic, Bruno Perreau analyzes changes in the idea of national identity in France and the United States. In the process, he offers a new theory of minority politics: an ongoing critique of norms is not only what gives rise to a feeling of belonging; it is the very thing that founds citizenship.

Bio:  Bruno Perreau is the Cynthia L. Reed Professor, and Associate Professor of French Studies at MIT.  Perreau is the author of several books in French on political institutions as well as LGBT studies and filiation. His recent book (The Politics of Adoption, MIT Press, 2014) questions the making of French citizenship in the light of adoption policies, bioethics, and sexuality. His new book Queer Theory: The French Response tackles the return of French theory to France, and the many fantasies of belonging across the Atlantic (Stanford University Press, 2016). Perreau has just co-edited with Joan W. Scott a volume about the changes to the notion of the republic in France that resulted from the use of gender in local, national, and international policies (Presses de Sciences Po, 2017). He is currently working on a new project on minority democracy, from Condorcet to affirmative action.